The police has again come in the limelight in the wake of the arrest of lawyer Akil Bissessur and of his partner, especially in light of the revelation made by the CCID in court that the DNA tests made of the drug packages seized at the residence of his partner revealed no trace of those of Mr Bissessur or his partner. This has given rise to various disparaging innuendoes, which would suggest that the drugs confiscated and held up as evidence of alleged drug trafficking by the suspect would have been planted during the search operation.
We are not there yet, since this has to be established, particularly as the investigations of the police, still under way, have to rely on other corroborative evidence than a sachet of 50g of illicit substance. At scales which are reported in many drug dealing cases or seizures, that amount may sound trifling and, while we have no sympathy for drug dealers, every citizen is entitled to the presumption of innocence until found guilty by a court. Defense lawyers have accordingly demanded that the police officers involved in the search operation be submitted to the same DNA sampling and analyses. Moreover, the circumstances of the search have yet to be clarified in court while the Special Striking Team, despite following Me Bissessur for some time, has yet to adduce any evidence or photographs of those who might have handed the accused that amount of illicit material found in the searched premises.
We trust the Police force succeeds in convincing the DPP and the courts ultimately that its intents and procedures were respectful of the provisions governing the lawyer’s arrest and the ensuing deprivation of his and his partner’s freedom for nearly three weeks.
The Police has been under clouds for quite some time and that have enfeebled its credibility. Most notorious have been the recent disturbing images and video clips of humiliation and brutalisation of convicts while in police custody. This should have been a wake-up call for higher officers that the end does not justify any improper or cynical means. There is also the view that the police has been applying too strictly the law governing the rights of citizens to peaceful protests. What is also perceived to be the intimidation of various lawyers and outspoken citizens critical of the government of the day by the police does not help to counter the growing perception of our police force being instrumentalised or weaponised as Trump would say, by the powers that be to stifle dissent and threaten those who speak against it.
The core philosophy behind the setting up of a police force is that it is primarily meant for the protection of the citizen rather than being a coercive instrument at the beck and call of politicians in power, for which reason the Commissioner of Police’s post is a constitutionally guaranteed one so that he can perform his duties in full autonomy. It is therefore expected that the holder of the post will ensure that the Constitution of the country will prevail over all other considerations, political or otherwise. As in all countries and as the latest Moody’s downgrade reminds local authorities, the stability and progress of Mauritius rests on a few key institutional pillars of governance. The police force should be among these pillars.
But there is not only the police’s actions and inactions that have become a cause of concern. Otherinstitutions have become the butt of legitimate criticisms from civil society and opposition parties in light of the series of scandals that have rocked the government since it came to office: the St Louis Redevelopment Project, the considerable rip-offs of health supplies and procurement during the pandemic, the disbursement of public funds by the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd, the dysfunctions in the National Assembly, the never-ending inquiries of its anti-corruption commission, the failure of investigative authorities to hold accountable those close to power, the unexplained mega losses whether at former flagships like the State Bank or Air Mauritius, etc.
What is at stake is obvious and very important: public trust in our public institutions. We have to ensure a system of checks and balances is in place to ensure that government and related public institutions are held accountable for decisions and actions that they take and for the consequences thereof and serious deviations sanctioned. Moreover, in our setting of sociological and economic diversity, there is no domain where trust, transparency and accountability are more imperious than in the very basis of our democratic functionings and constitutional rights: free, fair and credible elections. Without accountability and transparency, the chalice of suspicion can poison everything.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 September 2022
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